Customers want more options. Manufacturing is increasingly global. Competition is fiercer than ever before. Electronics manufacturers are hoping to leverage technology to stay ahead of the curve. To that end, industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is fast becoming a common tool used by manufacturers hoping to increase supply chain and process visibility and improve product quality, according to Zebra Technologies’ 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study, which was released this week.
“Manufacturers are entering a new era in which producing high-quality products is paramount to retaining and acquiring customers as well as capturing significant cost savings that impact the bottom line,” said Jeff Schmitz, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Zebra. “[We found] that IIoT has crossed the chasm, and savvy manufacturers are investing aggressively in technologies that will create a smarter, more connected plant floor to achieve greater operational visibility and enhance quality.”
Over the next five years, this shift will only become more pronounced. “It’s clear that manufacturers continue to adopt the idea of smart factory or Industry 4.0 to the reap the gains of visibility into the enterprise and back into the vendor network,” Jim Hilton, senior director, manufacturing and field mobility, at Zebra told EBN. “Adoption continues to progress in the way that it should. I was also glad to see that the idea of mobile technology is clearly expanding to include active and passive RFID, Bluetooth sensors, and more.”
A number of existing and emerging technologies, including radio frequency identification (RFID), wearables, and automated systems, are helping manufacturers connect with the factory and monitor physical processes to make decisions in a decentralized. By 2022, 64% of manufacturers expect to be fully connected to just 43% today.
Other key trends identified by the survey:
- Use of wearable technologies are on the rise in manufacturing. One half of manufacturers plan to adopt wearables by 2022. Meanwhile, 55% of those who are currently using wearable technology report that they will increase their usage over the next five years. In the warehouse, the definition of mobile technology is expanding beyond a device strapped to the worker’s arm or a headset, Hilton added.
- Manufacturers are abandoning manual processes. It’s becoming clear that these tools are error prone and less efficient than technology. Today, 62% of manufacturers still use paper and pen to track work in progress and processes…but that figure will drop to about 20% in five years. “Manufacturers need to get themselves automated out of necessity more than anything else,” Hilton said.
- Demand for quality assurance is driving investment in technology. By 2022, one in three manufacturers expect product quality to be the top concern, which indicates that they expect to have quality issues well in hand in short order.
- Technology investments will increase visibility and drive operational growth. Tracking is a core focus for 63% of organizations surveyed. Respondents are confident that a combination of technologies will let them achieve the visibility they want, Hilton explained.
- Manufacturers want voice control. Half of companies will expand their use of voice technology over the next five year, with the largest organizations leading the charge. “To get the most out of a wearable device, you need a combination of voice direction and voice recognition,” Hilton added.
The study also uncovered some regional differences in terms of which technologies are first on the list for manufacturers. In North America, adoption of cloud and software as a service (SaaS) is on the rise. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) based on these technologies are expected to grow rapidly with 58% percent of North American respondents expecting to use these services in 2022. In Europe, real time location systems (RTLS) are increasing in popularity. By 2022, 54% of European manufacturers plan to use RTLS to collect critical data about assets including location, stage, and condition, the survey found. Meanwhile, RFID use is on the rise in Latin America and the Asia Pacific.
The survey polled 1,100 manufacturing executives worldwide from a variety of industries including automotive, high tech, and pharmaceutical. “We were pleased with the balance of respondents, both geographically and by industry,” said Hilton said.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN